Next week, when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets his Chinese counterpart in Beijing, there will be numerous points of contention, including Taiwan, chips, and trade. How can the world’s two largest economies avoid a resurgence of the Cold War?
In August of last year, when then-US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, China conducted unprecedented military exercises near the self-governing island.
Since then, the administration of President Joe Biden has stated that it hopes to build a “floor for the relationship” and prevent rivalry from escalating into conflict. In November, Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping with this objective in mind, and both leaders committed to more frequent communication.
The Pentagon announced on Thursday, February 2, that a suspected Chinese spy balloon has been flying over the United States for several days, adding that Washington has been tracking it since it entered US airspace.
It was unclear how the incident would affect Blinken’s trip, during which he was slated to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and potentially Xi.
The increasing U.S. regulatory assault on China, including export limits that might cripple its chip manufacturing industry, is an additional source of concern.
With a new US-Philippines agreement granting the United States greater access to military bases and a likely Taiwan visit by new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, analysts see Blinken’s primary task during the February 5-6 meetings as preventing a crisis between the two nations.
Jude Blanchette, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, stated, “I believe the objective is to skip the Cuban Missile Crisis by accelerating the Cold War to its detente phase.”
He told a CSIS briefing on the visit, “This is basically about reestablishing the foundation of the relationship and putting in place some processes and mechanisms to be able to navigate through some of the strains in the relationship.”
China desires a stable relationship with the United States so it can focus on its economy, which has been harmed by the now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and disregarded by foreign investors terrified by the resumption of state meddling in the market.
In recent months, Xi Jinping has visited with international leaders in an effort to repair connections and resolve differences, notably with Australia, which will resume coal supplies to China following a three-year suspension. He has also demoted a number of his “wolf warrior” ambassadors, whose bellicose language alienated many of China’s trading partners.
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, argued that it is impossible for the two economies to decouple and that the countries should “deepen cooperation to promote the development of bilateral relations”
Analysts claim that China’s actions, particularly its military activity around Taiwan and in the South China Sea, have not moderated despite its pragmatic rhetoric.
Craig Singleton, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, stated, “China watchers have witnessed this diplomatic song and dance before.”
“Xi realizes that he can use purported peace overtures to create a far smoother path out of China’s present COVID dilemma, which remains his top goal.”
Blinken’s visit to China will be the first by a secretary of state since Mike Pompeo, in the administration of Donald Trump, met with then-foreign minister Wang Yi in Beijing in October 2018 and exchanged pointed remarks amid a deteriorating trade war.
Wendy Sherman, the Deputy Secretary of State, will accompany him.
Low expectations are held for the trip. While Blinken will discuss US concerns like as Beijing’s “no-limits” relationship with Russia, which was proclaimed weeks before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, no progress is anticipated on this or other significant problems including Taiwan, trade, and human rights.
Given the increasingly hawkish US Congress, the administration has less room for maneuver. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives created a select committee on China last month to counter Beijing’s growing international influence.
Washington hopes for modest progress on more specific but crucial issues, including as obtaining China’s cooperation on fentanyl, global health, climate change, and the detention of US people.
Even there, progress may be stymied, especially if Beijing demands concessions in other areas, such as easing US export restrictions on semiconductors in exchange for increased cooperation on the illegal supply of fentanyl from China, according to one source.
“Much like it has done with other issues, [Beijing] is attempting to link cooperation with other unrelated issues. China has rejected Washington’s “quite precise” ideas, a person familiar with the administration’s thinking said, describing the situation as “very frustrating.”
Kai Li, David Lin, and Mark Swidan, who the United States claims are unjustly detained in China, may be brought up by name by Blinken, according to sources, but it is unlikely that he will immediately secure their release.